Archive for the ‘culture’ category

‘how to make content to promote messages for peace’


In October 2014 I gave a speech at an event organised for the Department of Communities and Local Government and Breakthrough Digital entitled – digital capacity building project – ‘how to make content to promote messages for peace’ – aimed at local community organisations in the Leeds and Yorkshire area.  here is my speech.

Effective communications – getting peace messages out and about


My name is Nick Taylor and I am the Chief Executive of the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace.

I’m not a peace practitioner – my specialism is in two areas. First, helping complex organisations unlock their intellectual capital. Sounds complicated but what I mean is unlocking the ’softer’ elements of what makes an organisation successful – how they manage their stakeholders from their customers to their investors to the media to their people. Aspects such as ethics and risk and quality as opposed to the harder elements such as assets and finance. The second thing I do is in advising organisations on corporate, environmental and social governance and impact.

I work across all sectors. With bodies like district and city councils and the NHS in the public sector on anything from internal restructures through to hospital reconfiguration to health literacy campaigns. With the private sector, with energy companies undertaking national infrastructure projects through to utilities undertaking large capital projects or operating in sensitive environments. And in the third sector with social enterprise and charities with experience in the arts, health, heritage and most recently peace building and conflict resolution.

I tell you all this because most of those organisations, whilst wildly diverse and different, actually share very similar challenges and therefore similar solutions. Most commonly how they communicate and these days in unlocking their digital capacity.

Today I am going to talk a little bit about that, but I want to do that in a practical way aligned to the way we develop, produce and disseminate communications at the Foundation for Peace and give some examples of social media use and film content that we’ve planned recently. So what better way to introduce this by showing a film we have produced. Let’s take a look

(show film)

So now you have seen the film let me talk for a few minutes and you listen (this time without the moving images) let me try and give you a narrative version of what you have just seen – in other words what I say about the Foundation and then see if you think the five minute film effectively presented what I will now describe and perhaps the gaps between the pitch and how we presented the film.

Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace

is a charity that works nationally and internationally FOR PEACE and non-violent conflict resolution

In 1993 the IRA exploded two bombs without warning in a shopping street in the town of Warrington. It was the day before Mothering Sunday and very busy. The bombs in bins created shrapnel that killed three-year-old Johnathan Ball and five days later 12-years-old Tim Parry lost his life. 54 others were seriously injured. The incident shocked the nation and gained worldwide publicity.

The Parents of Tim Parry, supported by Johnathan’s parents (Johnathan’s parents have passed away) wanted to gain an understanding of why they lost their children. Colin and Wendy Parry were taken by BBC Panorama to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland the USA – during that visit they saw some of the work going on to create peace. They came back inspired, like many there victims, to try and make sure nobody ever experienced what they had gone through.

They formed a charitable trust with many of the donations that had come in after the bombing and they wrote a best selling book about their experience. A scholarship commenced in Tims’ name bringing together young people from different sides of the conflict to try to understand their differences and also share their commonalities.

Wendy Parry had the idea to create a location to house the scholarship and they set a vision to build a centre as a living memorial to the boys so nobody would forget them and that peace could be created. The project became a millennium goal and grew substantially with the involvement of Government and national charity the NSPCC. Opened in 2000, the Centre is a multi-purpose building on a large scale with incredible facilities from residential quarters to cafe to sport to art to special spaces for conferences and project work.

Early work started developing projects in line with new citizenship agendas in schools and by undertaking a huge and diverse number of projects and activities ranging from community youth clubs to residential programmes. In 2001 the Foundation undertook a study looking at the specific needs of GB domiciled victims of the Northern Ireland conflict and from this report work began to provide a series of activities to assist those victims. At the same time, conflict was changing with the likes of 9/11, 7/7 and a gradual move to peace in Northern Ireland. The Foundation began to develop its capabilities working not only with young people but communities generally in building peace and conflict resolution skills.

The Foundation has developed over a further 14 years and is independent and funded as a charity. We do not take sides, we are not aligned to any conflict, we are not faith or political based and we do not pursue causes such as justice or truth. There is no other organisation that takes such a stance. This ‘unique’ positioning is enhanced that we also believe to tackle serious violent conflict (terrorism, political violence, war) you have to deal with the prevention, resolution and response – the before, during and after – it is this combination of skills alongside our position that makes us unique.

We campaign only for one thing…For Peace…that is conflict is inevitable but using violence is not.

We deliver a unique programme made up of numerous projects that continue to develop to match contemporary challenges. Our work still focuses on young people, from offering general leadership development to working with those who may be vulnerable or at risk of using violence or being influenced by extremism. We develop skills with people including working with women to enhance their conflict resolution skills and recognise their unique ability to influence within families and the community. We assist GB citizens and other people domiciled here that may have been a victim, survivor or affected by serious violent conflict

The Foundation continues to grow by reputation and undertakes many projects internationally working with other Non Governmental Organisations. We Chair the European Union’s Radicalisation Awareness Network. We employ a highly skilled in-house team with an extended professional associate network. We provide consultancy including preparedness for humanitarian incidents, facilitation of dialogue and specialist input into the likes of educational resources and new media. In addition our Centre is home to many community organisations and privately hired by many other charities through to businesses for its use as a ‘safe and inspiring and adaptable space’.

What we do?

In essence when asked what we do it is probably one of the hardest questions to answer in a brief and simple manner. Peace is not an easy concept to get a handle on. What we realised very early on in our journey is that conflict is inevitable but the use of violence to further one’s aims and as part of conflict is not a given. In fact the way to resolve any conflict is through dialogue – effective communication. That means on one level it is about listening and hearing and acknowledging other people’s positions on another level it is about influencing behaviours and attitudes. So our projects and overall programme all follow a similar pattern. We create a safe space in which conversations, some of them very difficult, can take place. A space in which we can apply experiential learning and share tools and techniques to enable people to communicate effectively thus helping in conflict resolution and peace building.

The challenges we face

So what are the challenges we face in making the leap from the words I just delivered and the film.

First, challenge for us is we are complex, overly complex and at time impenetrable.

Second, is we are balancing many stakeholders and that film has to speak on many levels – setting our context and history, educating and informing, showing how we deliver, telling our story and acting as a ‘call to action’ – in this case a direct appeal for funding.

Third, how we balance sensitivities with a hard hitting subject area.

So let me throw out some of the techniques we used and that hopefully you spotted in use:

First – the film was relatively short (five minutes) but kept refreshing, staring with high impact of the bombing using actual footage and a powerful narration from our Founder – we used the mother’s voice and news footage of the the father setting the call to action for our Foundation in his son’s name.

Second – we didn’t linger or shock but we sought empathy and engagement before sounding a complete change to building and providing hope. Then we totally changed coming up to date and using a combination of our own people and third party voices to describe the work and our impact.

Third, we allowed people to see our key asset the Peace Centre but occupied and doing work people may not expect or have seen before e.g. survivors of London 7/7 from around the country – people from Palestine and Israel together.

Our final shot left a much changed father sounding the call for action and reminding us of where we came from with images of the boys.

This film has been seen by thousands from showing at a gala ball to showing in private to the Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. It works best in the Peace Centre – our visual checkpoint.

The main challenge is that we are communicating on many levels and the film is but a tool and it requires someone to embellish it and interpret it.

Of course the challenge of using a film as a tool for us to pitch ourselves is just one communication challenge but this is actually something we face across all our communications.

Defining your brand

So, let me share some of our learning about communication. We are a relatively mature organisation stemming from an incident 21 years ago and with a 19 year operating track record. But, our communication journey is one that is developing, somewhat embryonic and open to change. We are novices and the reason I say that is our organisation exists in a rapidly changing environment. The first thing we have done is to find our brand essence.

Understanding what our brand stands for is not only essential for helping us focus our work it is the key for helping us simplify our communications. That does not mean we have simplified down to a very narrow offering as that would not reflect the world we operate in but we have looked for what defines us, what makes us unique.

In our case there is the Parrys and what they give us. Having active founders can be a challenge but it is also a huge asset as their declared positions gives us an ethos – so they do not pursue justice, they express a common view of not wanting their experience to happen to others, they inspire others – it gives us a real legitimacy to what we do and enables us to do quite brave things.

The position that has developed through our evolution is powerful for us. Not taking sides, not campaigining and not being aligned is powerful although from a communication perspective it could be seen to be weak and anodyne – we position it as a strength.

The asset we have, the Peace Centre, and track record is powerful.

Hide your complexities

Many of the most successful brands, such as Amazon, Apple and Google, have truly complex underpinnings, while providing a simple experience. We are the same – we are off the scale complex and operating in hugely complex environments and yet we stand behind one proposition – we stand FOR PEACE – two words.

Simplify your communications

Organisations that make their communications too complicated, have inconsistencies between their message and experience.

What you have to define is what is the promise you are making aligned with what is the reality people experience.

What any stakeholder wants and demands is a clear link between the value a brand says it provides and what it actually does provide.

Content to promote message for peace

So from our perspective before we tackle content three things to consider:

brand essence
how we hide our complexities
how we simplify your messages

Three rules

Perhaps I can share the three rules we use that guides us into content creation.

First the rule of three or pattern recognition – we humans look for patterns in everything. The rule of three is a hugely powerful tool – listen to any politician, view an advertising campaign or look at brands and the rule of three will reveal itself: A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play – Beanz, Meanz Heinz – Stop Look and Listen, Education, Education, Education. Watch performers such as comedians who set up a joke, reinforce it, then deliver a punchline. Even literature – Friends, Romans, Countrymen. And what is the specialsism of the Foundation for Peace – prevention, resolution and response OR before, during, after.

Even during this presentation I am using the rule: I just used three: brand essence, hide your complexities, simplify your message.

When we are shaping content we try to use the rule of three so it resonates and sticks with our stakeholders.

Rule of two – life is dominated about opposites so: stop/go, black/white, good/bad. Of course real life isn’t like that but it communicating you are often trying to take a position and present an opposite. Peace/War Conflict/Resolution. In other words taking a pain and replacing it with a pleasure. So again in shaping content we often are looking to influence stakeholders through a simple either/or message

Rule of one – simple really actions speak louder than words. Remember what I said about what a brand provides and what it delivers. In shaping content we have to make sure our promise lives up to reality and we try and show actions.

The challenges and methods adopted

Our journey is adapting. Ten years ago much of our delivery was face-to-face but the world moves at a pace and the way we communicate changes almost by the second. It is that fast. We have adapted to look at our whole sensory package and to start to develop new media tools, hence why we are working with leading companies like Breakthrough. Our digital presence is no longer about a linear website, it is about blogs, visual and auditory content, it is not about a Twitter or Facebook account – it is about multiple platforms and additional tools such as Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Yammer, You Tube – about using management tools such as Hootsuite, Evernote and Dropbox – having smart devices in use.

And yet we are a very small team and charity and so it is challenging. We don’t have the ability to have dedicated communications professionals or teams – so we view it is everyone’s responsibility. We don’t necessarily have the ability to ‘train’ people but rather we are seeing communications as a naturalised skill to be developed and we have to constantly look to enhance all our capabilities. An example is we recently invited a skilled social media thinker to be at our team meeting and talk about the analytics and algorithms that drive social media effectiveness. Often its a case of just looking else where for best practice e.g. at the moment our team is watching the approach taken by a retail brand – Lidl and looking at how they are communicating and lifting the ideas for application in our are oaf expertise. It is a cut and paste society and we will adopt best practice in this way.

From recent discussions we have learnt how to schedule content and pre-planning it as well as responding and building up our digital profile. We have a long way to go – all the time we are using the three rules and working to an overarching campaign around essence, complexities and simplification.

Hopefully this has given you a flavour of how in forwarding the cause of peace we have to get ever more sophisticated in our communications – we have to do this as the enemies of peace are accelerating and adopting very professional communications. We have to change that and so or content has to be more compelling that theirs and more thought and action provoking.

At the beginning I described how I worked across many sectors. Best practice exists – you just have to look for it. Look outside and around you and in the most unusual of places. Look at how top brands who you admire or who get it right do it. We are a ‘cut and paste’ society so, and I finish with this rule of three and use the words cautiously but not be afraid to beg, borrow and steal – of course all for peace.

Thank you.

Sign off

Join me…For Peace

(Twitter) @Nick4P
(Professional profile)

(Twitter) @peacecentre
(Facebook) Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace
(Phone) 01925 581xxx
(Address) Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Centre, Peace Drive, Warrington, WA5 1HQ

A sense of Deja Vu!


Robert Byrd is a Democrat from West Virginia.  He is an eloquent speaker and his words really resonate with me: “What is happening in this country?  When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomacy when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?

Today at 10:30 (Friday 26 September 2014), the British Parliament is recalled and yet again our country and military are considering a high-altitude conflict (because that is what modern warfare often begins with – drones and flying technology) dropping explosives to thwart ‘terrorists’ on the ground.

Virtually every modern Parliamentary sitting has to face such a recall within its term of office but the consequences of their decisions will be felt for years and decades beyond their political decision making.  In that small chamber in Whitehall the debate and subsequent votes will determine the lives or deaths of people.  It will determine the post trauma and stress that will be experienced by people and it will set in place the behaviours and attitudes of future generations and actions that may follow amongst our population and in our communities.

The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace  was set up by the parents of a child who died as a result of others making decisions and the consequences that followed.  The Founders of the charity I work for stood up for peace by saying clearly that they didn’t want what they have experienced and still experience ever day to happen to anyone else.  Every day our Foundation works FOR PEACE – simply defined that we accept that conflict exists and is a reality in our personal lives, in our homes, in our communities, in the workplace, in every ‘walk of life’ including across races, religions and nations.  BUT, we believe, you don’t need to resort to violence to resolve conflict.  You do it through dialogue, mediation, negotiation, sharing experiences and understanding and yes, as Robert Byrd says – diplomacy.  Violence results in violence – there is no other conclusion.

In recent weeks I have called on the Government to look closely at the long-term investment and actions that need to be taken.  There has been a resounding silence.  When Robert Byrd spoke his words there was also a resounding silence.  We need to have this debate and we need it now.  Politicians have to look beyond their short-term lifespan of five years.  We need Government for the decades and centuries.  Our history shows us the decisions of previous Parliamentary recalls and the actions taken.  Our present shows us the consequences of those decisions and today one can’t help feeling a sense of deja vu!  The words I quote from Robert Byrd are powerful and similar may be spoken by another politician today.  In fact, Robert spoke those words on 19 March 2003 over a decade ago.  How far have we come, have we learnt anything, and perhaps it is time his words were listened to and heard.

Democracy is broken


Democracy is broken – of that there is no doubt.

Modern politics is about the HAVEs and the HAVE NOTs about power vs. vulnerability.

The politics of lying is the norm made possible by the likes of Thatcher and Blair who took on a nation’s trust and hopes and drank them up for their own personal gain and power.

Scotland’s electorate can stand proud because 84% of them showed what democratic citizenship is all about.

They exercised choice although influenced by uncertainty and unknown outcomes.

The May 2015 election is now beginning but we will not have that turnout – we must remove coalition as a form of political governance as it does not work and bring back social democracy but based on sound values and promises that are lived up to.  Not sure any of the present parties offer that.

We need the optimism of 1997 but this time the honesty to deliver on promises with integrity – pigs are flying by my window as I write this but I live in hope


Democracy – time for a change


I have to confess the Scottish independence vote has crept up on me.  Whether I have been dazzled in the bonhomie of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games or distracted by the various Edinburgh fringes; I haven’t given it a lot of thought.  But, forgive me if I am mistaken, neither have most of the non Scottish electorate and neither have our political leaders given the incredible panic that seems to have gripped them since an opinion poll flashed a ‘red light.’

The lack of certainty and unknowns around a simple binary decision of yes or no are quite astonishing.  Not just for Scotland, but those of us that live south of ‘passport control’ – what is going to happen? ‘Democracy’ and its processes and institutions are never going to be quite the same.

I agree with Adam Lent and Matthew Taylor at the RSA in their recent blogs that Westminster is creaking and indeed democracy generally is taking a bashing.  In truth the Westminster demise has been coming for a long time. 

Matthew Taylor’s RSA Blog

In 1997 ‘things could only get better’ rallied us behind a set of time served apprentice ministers such as Brown, Mowlam, Straw, Blunkett and of course Dewar who marched out of No 10 into the sunshine with shiny portfolios.  Within hours Brown was announcing fundamental changes of policy with the Bank of England, Mowlam was heading to Stormont on a journey towards a monumental Good Friday a year later AND Dewar was on the train to Edinburgh to set in progress the process that leads to next week.  I was actually walking down Whitehall outside the Scottish Office when Donald shook hands with his Civil Servants and witnessed this great moment.  In fact it was such a time of hope – what happened?  I’m reading Peter Osborne’s telling account – ‘The Rise of Political Lying’ published in 2005 and quite frankly his account has me burying my head in my hands.

The slippery slope of the noughties leads us to 2010 and I think ‘coalition’ has been fatal for political leadership.  Out went manifestos, the idea you know what you are voting for, in came blame (we have inherited the worse deficit ever etc) and a complete disaster of ‘corporate governance’ which is predicated on the fact that responsibility and accountability is somewhat the cornerstone of good leadership.  I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with three out of four of the great offices of state over the last two years and all are in their own way impressive but scratch beneath the surface to the ministries and it is like exposing a ‘rabbit in the headlights.’

We are in trouble and one can’t help that our 2015 election will be driven by shallow personality battles – all that will be missing from the leader debates will be a celebrity panel led by Simon Cowell passing judgement before handing it over to the public vote.  We may as well replace Dimbleby with Ant and Dec.

This malaise is being replicated worldwide.  President Obama’s recent ‘we haven’t got a strategy’ on Islamic State, and worse comparing them to a Varsity football team beggars belief in terms of leadership.

Perhaps we need to reconnect and there is hope.  An organisation I admire, Club de Madrid  will focus on a discussion of the state and the future of democracy, marking the launch of the two-year, Next Generation Democracy (NGD) Project.  

They will pose the question ‘Is the crisis in democracy perception or reality?’  There is a growing sense that democratic governments are not delivering, and that people’s expectations are not being met.  They will lead a Call for Action, organised by them and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.  The dialogue, to be held in Italy, will offer a unique opportunity to engage in a comprehensive analysis of regional dynamics and potential threats to democracy, with nearly 100 democratic former heads of state and government and a variety of political and social actors.  Hopefully they will deliver some real leading thinking and solutions.

Closer to home, I will be in Wigan on Saturday at the fourth annual ‘Diggers’ festival.  This little know event is growing in stature and commemorates the life of Gerrard Winstanley who was born in the town.  Winstanley was part of the radical movements, like the Levellers, in the 17th century and published his ‘A declaration from the Poor oppressed People of England’ (1649).  His occupation of St George’s Hill in Surrey was a real social action that brought about change and on Saturday Wigan will remember their little known son; and bring together social and political activists, poets, musicians, artists and academics for connect us with the idea of true democracy, social action and radical activism.  I’ll be alongtaking heart that democracy is not owned by some failing elite in Westminster but is owned by us all.

In the words of Gerrard Winstanley:

“we are resolved to be cheated no longer, nor be held under the slavish fear of you no longer, seeing the Earth was made for us, as well as for you: And if the common land belongs to us who are the poor and oppressed, surely the woods that grow on the Commons belong to us likewise: Therefore we are resolved to try the uttermost in the light of reason, to know whether we shall be free men, or slaves…And if we strive for freedom, and your murdering governing laws destroy us, we can but perish.”

Is the ‘witch hunt’ to become the way we regulate civic society?


Reputation has always been intangible and the pace in which solid careers and organisations can crumble is remarkable.  However, this year marks a very sinister change for those wrestling with stakeholder and reputation management as it appears all usual norms are suspended and we have an anarchic and almost uncontrollable court of public opinion driving leadership decisions.

The resignation of the BBC Director General is very worrying as is the fact that we seem to have lost the concept of normal regulatory governance or even legal practice such as innocence until proven guilty and beyond reasonable doubt.

Are we to allow regulation to be a witch hunt dictated by popular opinion and driven by a shallow media and political crowd through their incessant inquiries, select committees and the unchecked and unqualified opinion of the twitter-ati. Are we on a slippery slope?

I believe that leadership essentially demonstrates two behaviours: that of being accountable and that of being a victim. The Coalition tends to use terms like “we inherited the worst situation ever” or “we are clearing up the mess others left behind” as opposed to the 1997 approach of arriving with ministerial portfolios (Brown, Mowlam, Dewar, Straw etc) and just getting stuck in. This is not a political comment by the way just an observation of victim vs. accountable leadership.

I think resignation (or calls for such) is in fact victim and it resolves nothing – in fact it is the easy way out. I just wonder if the present political and regulatory climate is such that we are in absolute victim mode and that the ‘witch hunt’ mentality is feeding off that. What we have at one end of the spectrum are real victims (those children who were abused) but then a hunt for liability through some form of victim creation.

The reason I started to get very nervous about all this was listening to the senior director of one of the country’s biggest charities saying we should ‘believe’ all victims that come forward. That is dangerous and ignores basic law and as we have found with Lord McAlpine is such wrong advice to give.

I think this is now a situation in danger of getting out of control and we need to get this debate airing publicly because I fear an Arthur Miller play is becoming reality.  For those trying to advise and manage reputation 2012 is becoming a watershed moment that may require entirely new methods and approaches.

Reputation – why it matters and how you can manage it


“…Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial…”

William Shakespeare Othello. ACT II Scene 3.

There are three dimensions to business success: performance, growth and reputation.  The first two dimensions are tangible, measurable and therefore manageable.  They are the bastions of traditional accounting defined by the elements that make up book value and can be measured by the strength of the balance sheet.  The third dimension, reputation, is different.  It is almost wholly intangible, difficult to measure and therefore very difficult to manage.

And yet, reputation’s value and consequent potential liability is great, almost infinite in some respects.  Whilst book value and traditional accounting is one way of valuing a business, it misses the true value that makes up a business’s intellectual capital – the goodwill that creates the absolute value that is often only realised during a sale but may be severely damaged or enhanced at almost anytime.

In 1980 almost 100 per cent of the value of a company consisted of tangible assets such as chairs, factories and inventory.  That figure is now more like 30 or 40 per cent – the rest comes from intangible value.

Intellectual capital is now recognised as the most critical dimension of success.  High growth and performance are vitally important but equally so is the protection and promotion of reputation.  The problem is that the lack of tangibility makes it a difficult proposition for people to understand.

In my consultancy we work with complex organisations to help them realise their intellectual capital value through the promotion and protection of their reputation.  One of the surest indicators to us is how responsible a business in terms of its environmental, social and (corporate) governance (ESG).

A great indicator of high ESG performance is often seen through the way a business treats waste either as a cost or rather as a resource to be managed.  Lee Petts from Remsol talks about every pound saved in waste being a pound added to the bottom line.  I would go further in saying that it is also value in terms of intellectual capital.

So, waste management should be a high business priority not just in terms of its ‘green’ aspects but in the real difference it makes to overall value. Integrating waste management and environmental performance into overall business strategy and then ensuring efforts are made to leverage that in terms of communication is the way to promote reputation and increase value.

My favourite quote in terms of judging reputation is ‘actions speak louder than words’ and maybe in realising why reputation matters in terms of waste management its worth adding another old saying: ‘where there’s muck there’s brass!’

Nick Taylor is the owner of Bodyproject and the creator of the Advanced Stakeholder Management methodology that helps organisations promote and protect reputation call 0151 709 2288 or e-mail